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Archive for the ‘Government’ Category

California potable reuse study gets a boost with SB 322

Posted by George J Janczyn on October 10, 2013

Many people will remember that in September 2010 Gov. Schwarzenegger signed into law SB 918 which required the State Department of Public Health to investigate the feasibility of developing uniform water recycling criteria for direct potable reuse, and to provide a final report on that investigation to the Legislature.

Locals may now be experiencing a feeling of déjà vu after reading U-T San Diego’s report about SB 322 signed by Governor Brown (Brown signs bill to boost SD ‘toilet-to-tap’ plans).

The U-T writes that SB 322 : “…gives the Department of Public Health, working with the State Water Resources Control, until Sept. 1, 2016 to issue a draft feasibility report” on potable reuse and “calls for an expert panel and advisory groups to study the best course for regulating wastewater-to-drinking-water and then submit those recommendations to the two state agencies for review.

Sound like the same thing? It is, mostly, with a few differences:

  • The old bill (SB 918) directed the Department of Public Health to perform the investigation and prepare a report for the legislature by December 31, 2016. The new bill (SB 322) directs that the Department of Public Health perform the investigation in consultation with the State Water Resources Control Board.
  • The old bill required a public review draft to be completed by June 30, 2016. The new bill gives more time for the public review draft to be completed, shifting it to September 1, 2016.
  • The old bill required an expert panel to be convened for purposes of the investigation, but didn’t say when. The new bill says the expert panel must be convened and administered on or before February 15, 2014.
  • The old bill said the department may appoint an advisory group. The new bill says the department must convene an advisory group on or before January 15, 2014.

Other changes include new details covering the scope of the investigation, the composition of the expert panel, and composition of the advisory group. Curiously, while the old bill authorized the department to accept funds “from any source” for the investigation, the new bill authorizes the department to accept funds “from nonstate sources.”

In sum, the new bill adds some urgency to the effort with a deadline for convening the expert panel, changes the advisory group from optional to mandatory, and adds more specifics about the study itself.

San Diego County Water Authority’s news release characterizes the bill well, saying it “…is expected to expedite a transparent and rigorous scientific assessment of “potable reuse” as a potential water source.” (emphasis added by me)

Click here for the full text of the bill with the legislative counsel’s digest.

For background on San Diego’s potable reuse efforts, see the Water Purification Demonstration Project website.


Leave it to good old U-T San Diego. In the opening paragraph of its story on the bill, the U-T says that potable reuse has been “dubbed by critics as “toilet-to-tap.” The U-T’s headline? “Brown signs bill to boost SD ‘toilet-to-tap’ plans.” Once a critic, always a critic, eh?


Posted in Government, Potable reuse, Water | 6 Comments »

San Diego responds to media reports that water department sitting on excess funds

Posted by George J Janczyn on February 22, 2012

U-T San Diego recently reprinted an Investigative Newsource story criticizing the Public Utilities Department use (or non-use) of money raised from rate hikes (Water rate hikes leave $630 million unused) and KPBS followed up with Public Utilities flush with cash but behind on projects.

Today the City responded with the following letter:


Posted in Government, Water | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Equinox Center releases new “Regional Quality of Life Dashboard”

Posted by George J Janczyn on February 3, 2012

San Diego’s non-profit Equinox Center (actually it’s located in Encinitas) has published a new 2012 report Regional Quality of Life Dashboard on its website.

The Dashboard front page (which also has reports for 2010 and 2011) states that it aims to

“…shine a spotlight on the questions that truly matter to San Diegans: Are we leaving our children a heritage of thriving, rejuvenating nature? Will our businesses have access to resources such as energy and water so they can provide economic opportunities to all of the region’s inhabitants? Do we have efficient and adequate transportation options? Simply, is our quality of life improving?”

As you can see, a variety of relevant topics are addressed in the dashboard. You have the choice of clicking a specific topic from the left-hand sidebar or you can download the entire report as a PDF (clicking the above image will take you to the main Dashboard page).

Each topic is organized into four units, with the headings asking:

  1. What is the measure?
  2. How are we doing?
  3. Why is it important?
  4. How can we improve?

In the unit on water, here’s a map from the “How are we doing?” section. The map portrays each water district in the county in shades of green, with dark green indicating the highest water consumption (clicking the image will display the version on the Equinox website).

In addition to the Dashboard reports, the Equinox Center website is well-worth exploring for reports on other research it has conducted. One that is quite revealing is the 2010 report San Diego’s Water Resources: Assessing the Options. It drew quite a bit of attention from community leaders and activists. For my summary of that report please click here.


Posted in Environment, Government, Land use, Water | Leave a Comment »

Sneak preview: draft annual report from the San Diego Independent Rates Oversight Committee

Posted by George J Janczyn on August 15, 2011

[possible subtitle: Charting San Diego’s water future]

The 2010 draft annual report from the San Diego Independent Rates Oversight Committee (IROC) was on the agenda for today’s meeting.

Water conservation, water rates (and how the Carlsbad desal project may impact them), recycled water, capital improvement programs, and wastewater treatment are among the topics committee members are interested in. Since I’ve expressed concern in earlier blog posts that not enough City effort seems to be going towards large-scale potable reuse, I was happy to see the report emphasize that we should not wait for the completion of the Water Purification Demonstration Project to expand our vision for potable reuse. The Environmental & Technical Subcommittee also mentioned: “An additional concern is that sufficient planning has not gone into what needs to be done to move ahead with an operational Indirect Potable Reuse (IPR) system…”

Approval on the annual report was deferred because the Finance Committee portion was seen to contain excessive detail and be inappropriate for an annual report. Indeed, the City Comptroller said at the meeting that he was one of maybe only 10 people in the city who would even understand it (here’s the draft PDF, judge for yourself). The Finance report will be rewritten and discussed at the next meeting.

A copy of the IROC draft annual report is displayed below (or if you prefer use this link for the PDF). Please remember that this is a draft and is subject to further revision.

Posted in Government, Independent Rates Oversight Committee (IROC), Water | 3 Comments »

Legal challenge continues over SDSU’s Master Plan and Adobe Falls development

Posted by George J Janczyn on June 21, 2011

This is to catch up on the multi-year legal maneuvers that involve the Adobe Falls area — undeveloped open space adjacent to Alvarado Creek just north of the I-8 freeeway across from San Diego State University, west of College Avenue. San Diego State University’s Master Plan intends to develop that land with up to 348 residential housing units for faculty and staff.

Alvarado Creek (the green tree belt) crosses to the north side of Interstate 8 near College Avenue. The Adobe Falls cascades wrap to the north and then the creek turns westward.

Beginning with the 2005 Master Plan and then the 2007 Master Plan revision, California State University’s certification of the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) was challenged in lawsuits by the City of San Diego, Del Cerro Action Council, and other entities.

February 2010: after years in court during which the cases were consolidated into one, the Superior Court entered a judgment in favor of SDSU (for history up to that point click here).

Subsequently, the City of San Diego and its Redevelopment Agency, the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), and the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) decided to appeal the decision (due to lack of funds, Del Cerro Action Council was unable to join the appeal).

December 2010: City of San Diego and other parties filed opening briefs in their appeal of the Superior Court judgment.

February 2011: CSU filed its brief.

March 17-18, 2011: San Diego [et al.] filed reply briefs.

April 26, 2011: Amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs were filed by California Department of Transportation, League of California Cities, and California State Association.

May 26, 2011: CSU filed responses to the amicus curiae briefs.

Del Cerro is in the background. Alvarado Creek's Adobe Falls, which flows year-round although sometimes at a trickle, is hidden at top right

The issues discussed in the various briefs go into considerable detail. Note that SDSU’s Master Plan includes other development projects in addition to the Adobe Falls proposal, so the mitigation issues discussed in the appeal are much broader. I would characterize the arguments very generally as going back and forth over the following:

1. The City asserts that CSU abused its discretion under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by claiming its financial obligation to ensure mitigation for traffic is limited to requesting funds from the Legislature. If funds were to be denied, CSU would assume no further responsibility.

2. SANDAG and MTS argue that CSU failed to address the impacts that will result from SDSU’s massive increased use of public transit systems to transport additional students, faculty, staff and visitors to and from the SDSU campus” and that CSU should have considered alternate potentially feasible mitigation measures.

CSU argues that it cannot make funding requests for highway traffic improvements, because only Caltrans can do that. CSU says the Master Plan project traffic impacts are just one part of the overall traffic growth picture that Caltrans must plan for. However, CalTrans presently has no plans for highway improvements in the vicinity of the project, so without such a plan, it would be impossible to determine what CSU’s fair share should be. CSU says it can only commit to pay a fair share for traffic improvements when Caltrans develops a plan.

Further, CSU argues that it prepared a traffic analysis that studied impacts to the transportation network surrounding SDSU as required by CEQA; identified significantly impacted intersections, roads, and road segments; negotiated extensively with the City of San Diego and other agencies over the fair-share mitigation amounts; made final fair-share determinations; adopted fair-share mitigation measures specific to both the City of San Diego and Caltrans; and requested fair-share mitigation funds from the Legislature. CSU says it changed its capital outlay budget process to include mitigation of off-campus impacts. CSU also argues that there is nothing in CEQA that requires “alternate potentially feasible mitigation measures” not required by statute or implementing regulations.

Naturally, everybody involved with the case declines to comment because it is ongoing litigation.

What’s next: a clerk at the Court of Appeals indicates that no further hearings have been scheduled, but guesses that it could be September or later before the next hearing.

One of several cascades at Adobe Falls.


Posted in Adobe Falls, Environment, Government, Land use | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Colorado River Board of California on the budget chopping block

Posted by George J Janczyn on May 27, 2011

At yesterday’s San Diego County Water Authority (SDCWA) Board Meeting, the Imported Water Committee reported on this curious development regarding the Colorado River Board of California (CRB):

“The 2011-12 Governor’s Budget May Revision proposes to eliminate the CRB as part of a larger effort to reduce state government and match state spending with available revenue.”

The Colorado River Board of California was established in 1937 by state statute to protect California’s rights and interests in the resources provided by the Colorado River and to represent California in discussions and negotiations regarding the Colorado River and its management.

The Board is comprised of six water agencies, plus the California Department of Fish and Game and Department of Water Resources as ex-officio members, and two non-voting public members. The water agencies include the San Diego County Water Authority, City of Los Angeles, Metropolitan Water District, Palo Verde Irrigation District, Coachella Valley Water District, and the Imperial Irrigation District.

What’s curious about the Governor’s proposal? This dry observation from the committee report says it all:

“It is not clear at this time how any savings to California’s budget would be achieved, as the six water agencies on the board fund the entire CRB budget and activities.”

It’s possible the Governor wasn’t aware that the CRB doesn’t receive state funding. SDCWA staff intend to further review the situation with CRB and state agency staff to determine if that was the case and possibly spare CRB from the chopping block. In any case, since CRB was created by statute, even if the proposed elimination goes forward CRB members would have until January 2012 to explore alternatives.


Posted in Government, Water | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Can San Diego live with a water budget?

Posted by George J Janczyn on April 25, 2011

At Wednesday’s (April 20) Natural Resources and Culture Committee (NR&C) meeting, the Public Utilities Department (PUD) reported on its pilot study for a water budget plan addressing longstanding calls for a pricing mechanism that rewards customers who use water efficiently and discourages waste.

Hypothetical example per unit of water

In a memorandum to the committee, PUD Director Roger Bailey wrote that the water budget would “incentivize conservation without inadvertently penalizing customers who have already been using water efficiently.”

The pilot study examined selected properties in coastal and inland areas in order to evaluate differing needs. PUD now intends to hire a consultant “with experience developing and implementing water budget based billing methodologies.”

Although many people would like a well-designed water budget that sets a reasonable per-person amount at a low price and a significantly higher price for excess or wasteful usage, that position is somewhat at odds with another popular viewpoint that water rates should only reflect the actual cost of providing the water.

Mayor Sanders alluded to that philosophical tension in his letter criticizing a Voice of San Diego article that implied people who conserve water are penalized.

In the letter the mayor discussed logistical and other problems with a water budget, suggesting conservation pricing incentives might even be illegal, writing “California Proposition 218 requires a proportional link between what you charge a customer and what it costs to deliver water to that customer.”

Presently, San Diego has a variable “water used” charge that covers only the cost of water, and a separate fixed “water base fee” to cover infrastructure operations and maintenance, reliability projects, etc.. The City of San Diego Water Cost of Service Rate Study gives a little more insight into pricing issues.

(It gets complicated: although San Diego’s water bill theoretically separates the cost of water from the other charges contained in the fixed fee, the agencies that sell us wholesale water bundle their other expenses into the price they charge us, so in that sense our “water only” price does include other things.)

Addressing California state legal challenges, respected water economist David Zetland showed how a water budget can be designed without violating Proposition 218’s proportionality requirement or amending AB2882 (AB2882 calls for water pricing to reflect “cost of service”). Here’s an example he gives:

  • Set variable prices in a tiered (increasing block rate) structure.
  • Make sure that the first three tiers (e.g., “lifeline,” “basic” and “normal” blocks) recover ALL costs associated with service. Put differently, set revenues (price x quantity for first three tiers) to equal costs.
  • Implement fourth and fifth tiers (“wasteful” and “god-awful”) that are far more expensive.
  • Anyone who uses water in this range will pay 200-300% of the prices in the lower tiers.
  • Since revenue in Tiers 4 and 5 are NOT in the budget, they do not need to reflect the “cost of service.”

An American Water Works Association report further explains such workarounds: Water conservation made legal: water budgets and California law.

Another major issue with water budgets is whether landscaping gets factored in. There are some people (like Mr. Zetland) who believe a water budget should reserve the lowest prices for clearly defined human needs only, while others believe the budget should take property size into account and permit additional low-cost water as lot size and landscaping needs increase.

The “people vs. lawns” conflict can be illustrated by this (completely made up) example of one household getting the lowest price for a monthly use of 7 hundred cubic feet (HCF) or less, while across the street a home with a larger lot size might be given 12HCF or more at the same low price before excess charges kick in. Would that be fair?

In addition to his objection to allowing the lowest rates to apply to landscape watering, Mr. Zetland doesn’t think “local weather conditions” should be a factor in the price structure either. Says Zetland: “The only measure that a water manager needs is the number of people in the house. No need for lot sizes, landscaping density, temperature zones, etc.”

Any water budget promoting conservation and penalizing waste will have to work against the popular assumption that everyone is paying too much for water. As he campaigns for mayor, Councilmember Carl DeMaio has been claiming that he knows how to cut the price of water in San Diego by 15% and that he could freeze it at that level for five years. Zetland, who has discussed water issues with DeMaio’s chief of staff, dismisses the idea as “silly,” saying it would create LESS incentive to reduce consumption and that the utility’s fixed costs may not be covered with such a cut.

Notions like DeMaio’s also sidestep the fact that some 80% of San Diego’s water is imported and must be purchased through wholesale suppliers, i.e., the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) and San Diego County Water Authority (CWA). All trends show the price of purchasing that imported water will continue to increase. As imported water gets more expensive, alternative local sources like potable reuse and desalination will become more competitive, but they are nevertheless expensive infrastructure to build and maintain. Water transfers from Imperial Valley reduce imported water purchases from MWD/CWA, but ultimately it’s still expensive imported water and involves paying MWD for delivering (wheeling) it through the Colorado River Aqueduct.

A water budget can make price allocation seem more fair, but it won’t necessarily mean the price of water will be cheaper.

Informed residents know San Diego should continue to improve local resources to offset potential (inevitable) disruptions in obtaining imported water, but improving reliability will drive the cost of water up no matter how efficiently we conserve or devise water budgets. Price alone can’t be the main concern when it comes to the local water supply. Electioneering with claims that everyone’s being drastically overcharged for water fuels emotional public sentiment but doesn’t change the need to responsibly manage our local water supply. Like police and fire, if the water supply is disrupted, it’s a serious public health and safety issue. Water can’t be treated like a typical retail commodity.

Take a read of Why am I paying more for less water? from On the Public Record. The San Jose Mercury News has an interesting post too, Bay Area water customers may pay price for conservation. The article delves further into why people shouldn’t expect water conservation to make water less expensive:

Rydstrom said that while water consumption has dropped, his agency’s expenses have not — especially the bond payments on its $4.6 billion Water System Improvement Program to repair, replace and upgrade pipelines and reservoirs most at risk in a major earthquake.

“You have to pay your rent, whether you spend 30 nights of the month there or whether you’re on vacation,” Rydstrom said. “For us, the debt is a fixed cost and we have to pay that, regardless of what the water usage is.”

This Alliance for Water Efficiency document further explains water budgets.

Does any of this answer the question posed in the headline? Sorry, this is just a peek at some of the challenges. The letter from Mayor Sanders is a good starting point for a healthy fact-based debate about a water budget for San Diego. Also, Councilmember Sherri Lightner has asked NR&C to place her water policy update plan on the docket for the May meeting. With luck the City Council and others will engage in a good discussion. It will be tough going, though, if this U-T report is any indication: Water concerns wane as drought fades.


David Zetland is a senior water economist at Wageningen University in the Netherlands and has previously written extensively about water budgets:

His forthcoming book The end of abundance: economic solutions to water scarcity discusses water budget based pricing as well.

Note to Mayor Sanders: While I was asking for permission to quote his material, Mr. Zetland told me he would be happy to send you a copy of his book if you ask. Please take him up on the offer!


Posted in Government, Politics, Water | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

City of San Diego files opening briefs in appeal of SDSU’s plan to develop Adobe Falls

Posted by George J Janczyn on December 3, 2010

Overlooking the Adobe Falls area. Freeway I-8 is on the left, Mission Valley in the distance

Adobe Falls is a parcel of undeveloped land and open space adjacent to Alvarado Creek across the I-8 freeway from San Diego State University just west of College Avenue.

Since before 2005, SDSU has been pressing to implement its Master Plan project to use that land for up to 348 residential housing units for faculty and staff. Numerous lawsuits by the City of San Diego, Del Cerro Action Council, and other entities challenged the California State University’s (CSU trustees) certification of the Environmental Impact Report (EIR). The cases were eventually consolidated into one and last February the court entered a judgment in favor of SDSU (for details about the project and those legal actions click here).

On May 25, 2010 the City submitted notice of intent to file an appeal (Del Cerro Action Council had earlier filed an objection to the proposed statement of decision, but lack of financial resources prevented it from filing an appeal).

Just a few days ago, on Nov. 24, 2010 an appellant’s opening brief was filed by the City of San Diego and the Redevelopment Agency. On Dec. 1, 2010 the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) and the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) filed their opening brief.

Adobe Falls is considered to be the only year-round waterfall within City limits

Judges have not been determined yet. According to Gina Coburn, Communications Director for the City Attorney’s office, “The appellate court assigns a 3 panel judge but we don’t know who until they send out the notice of hearing which will be after the briefing is complete, sometime in February 2011.”

The City of San Diego [et al.] opening brief argues that the EIR was improperly certified because the approval is based on an erroneous interpretation of a different case that was cited as precedent. It also charges that CSU was “disingenuous” and abused its discretion under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by claiming it has no obligation to ensure mitigation for traffic and other issues beyond asking the State Legislature for funding (i.e., if funds were not forthcoming, CSU’s position is that it has no further obligation).

The SANDAG and MTS opening brief states that “the most fundamental violation of CEQA at issue concerns CSU’s complete failure to address the impacts that will result from SDSU’s massive increased use of public transit systems to transport additional students, faculty, staff and visitors to and from the SDSU campus.” It goes on to say that CSU “deliberately” understated automobile traffic impacts.

A response brief from CSU is due in January or February of next year.


Posted in Adobe Falls, Environment, Government, Land use | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Navajo Community Planners agenda for Oct 18

Posted by George J Janczyn on October 9, 2010

[Revised Oct 15, 2010]


Posted in Government, Politics | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

California drought contingency plan is up for public review

Posted by George J Janczyn on August 8, 2010


Posted in Environment, Government, Water | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »